Striker’s sixth full-length Play to Win unsurprisingly doubles down on the hard rock-meets-heavy metal formula established by their 2017 self-titled release. The shift isn’t too unnatural, as the Canadians’ songwriting method has always been based around upbeat tempos and hooky vocals. There’s still some room for blazing power metal on songs like the opening “Heart of Lies” and “Summoner,” but the glossy production is enough to indicate that the gritty speed metal they were playing earlier this decade has been left behind.
In fact, Play to Win may be the poppiest and most polished Striker album to date. Softer layers and more 80s friendly effects define songs like “On the Run” while others such as “Head First” and the title track mix their catchy choruses with slower tempos than usual. There’s even room for a couple all-out power ballads, as “Standing Alone” and “Heavy is the Heart” flashback to Judas Priest’s “Out in the Cold,” while the closing “Hands of Time” is at a level of saccharine that would make your average Europower group blush.
But if the songwriting is dolled up, then the production and musicianship are even more so. Everything sounds rather artificial as the vocals are extensively layered, the guitar tone is clean and processed, the drums are as tight as a Randy Black session performance would suggest, and some synths have been added in for maximum 80s effect. There’s enough talent for it to avoid sounding fake, but it can feel somewhat uncanny compared to their peers in the style.
Overall, Striker’s Play to Win is a little too glossy for my taste but I imagine it going over well with fans who like their heavy metal with extra glam. It’s upbeat enough to not feel out of step with what the band did before and the performances work well with the format. I prefer a sleazier approach to glammed up trad metal as seen on Cauldron’s last album, but this is an absolute shoo-in if you have reverence for Judas Priest or Def Leppard’s late 80s work.
“Heart of Lies”
“Play to Win”